Short of counselors, US schools turn to online therapy

Public schools in the United States are increasingly using online mental health services or remote therapy for students.

At least 16 of the 20 largest American public school systems offer online therapy to reach millions of students, reports the Associated Press. In these systems alone, schools have signed provider contracts worth more than $70 million.

The business model makes so much money that capital investors invest in new companies as the market grows. However, some experts have expressed concern about the quality of care provided by fast-growing technology companies.

But teachers say remote therapy works for many kids and fills a big need. There is also a shortage of on-site therapists in schools. Online help has made therapy more accessible to children, especially poor students and those living in rural areas. Schools give students the opportunity to connect online counsel during the school day or after being away from home.

Ishoo is a mother of two in Lancaster, California. She struggled to help her second-grader daughter cope with serious ailments anxiety.

Last spring, her school district started a distance therapy program and Ishoo enrolled her daughter. During a month of weekly video sessions at home, the girl opened up to the therapist. The therapist gave the student tools and techniques to reduce anxiety.

He learned that it’s OK to ask for help, and sometimes everyone needs a little extra help, Ishoo said.

The 13,000-student school system, like many others, is staffed with counselors and psychologists. But that’s not enough to fill the need, said Trish Wilson of Lancaster supervisor counseling.

The district’s therapists have a full caseload, making it impossible to provide immediate care to students, he said. Students rarely have to wait a long time for an online lesson.

The students and their parents said in the interviews that they turned to remote therapy after struggling with feelings of sadness, loneliness, stress and anxiety. For many, returning to in-person school after distance learning was very difficult.

Schools are using federal pandemic grants to pay for aid, as experts have warned of alarming rates of youth depression, anxiety and suicide. Many school districts contract with private companies. Others work with local health care providers, nonprofit organizations, or government programs.

Mental health experts are welcome for additional support, but warn of possible risks. First, it is more and more difficult to hire school counselors and psychologists. Competition with telehealth providers does not help.

Notes from students expressing support and sharing coping strategies. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

We have 44 advisers open jobsand telehealth definitely effects our ability to fulfill them, Doreen Hogans said. He is a school counseling supervisor in Prince Georges County, Maryland. Hogans estimates that 20 percent of the school counselors who left have taken remote therapy work. Workplaces often offer cheaper working hours than schools.

The companies’ rapid growth raises questions about the quality of therapists and their experiences with children and privacy, Kevin Dahill-Fuchel said. He is the executive director of Counseling in Schools, a nonprofit organization that helps schools improve traditional, one-on-one mental health services.

One of the largest providers is San Francisco-based Hazel Health. It started with telemedicine health services in schools in 2016 and expanded to mental health in May 2021, CEO Josh Golomb said. It now employs more than 300 therapists who provide teletherapy in more than 150 school districts in 15 states.

Other service providers will enter the space. In November, New York City launched a free telehealth service for teens to remove barriers access, said Ashwin Vasan, the city’s health commissioner. New York is paying TalkSpace $26 million over three years for the service, which allows teenagers to download an app and connect with therapists.

Unlike other cities, New York provides services to all teenagers, whether they attend private, public, home schools, or are not in school at all.

I really hope this normalizes and democratizes access to mental health care for our young people, Vasan said.

I’m Dan Novak.

Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on a report by The Associated Press.

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The words in this story

venture capital of. the money used to start a new business

adviser of. a person who advises as a job: a person who advises people

anxiety of. fear or nervousness about what might happen

stay up year to be responsible for

open job position of. a job or a job that is available

effect of. the act or force of one thing striking another

access of. a way to get close to, something or someone or something

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